Palestinian, Israeli Seeds lead community discussions in Chicago
CHICAGO | Flying in directly from the Middle East, three Seeds recently spent a weekend in Chicago to engage high school and university students in discussion about violence, intervention, and the potential relevance of Seeds of Peace’s model to local neighborhoods.
Speaking with over 150 students at the Evanston Township High School and with a diverse audience at The University of Chicago School of Social Administration, Tomer, Leith, and Siwar brought Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab-Israeli perspectives as well as their Seeds of Peace experiences to panels, discussion groups and question and answer sessions.
The Seeds’ trip coincided with peace walks held in Chicago protesting the current level of violence in the city, which saw 114 homicides in the first three months of 2012, and many participants were interested in hearing how the Seeds of Peace model might be applied to intervene to lower this violence.
On March 29, Tomer, Leith and Siwar visited Evanston Township High School to discuss Seeds of Peace, explain their lives in the Middle East, and interact with their American peers. They also joined a breakfast conversation led by Special Education Student Ambassadors, Student Council members, and the Director of Race and Equity.
At the University of Chicago event on April 1, Seeds spoke specifically about persevering through the human dilemmas that occur when one participates in peace-building programs yet also participates in national life. Sixty people attended the event and participated in experiential learning through dialogue and discussion over a meal provided by The University of Chicago Uncommon Fund Grant.
Josh, a student from a teen leadership program at the South Side community organization, Gary Comer Youth Center, reported a positive group dynamic: “I noticed that everyone in my group was listening to each other even though many people had opposing beliefs.”
Siwar spoke about being the first and only Muslim student at an all-Jewish high school and ways in which Seeds of Peace shaped both her decision to attend the school as well as her responses to her peers: “Sometimes my classmates say that I don’t look Arab. After my second year talking about these issues at Camp, I feel more comfortable asking them, ‘What is an Arab person supposed to look like?’”
Tomer, a 16-year-old Israeli Seed, shared his thoughts on Israel’s compulsory military service. “On one hand, I love my country and want to serve it. On the other hand, I want my Palestinian friends to live in peace.”
“One thing that stuck with me from Camp is the power of listening,” said Leith. “In dialogue, I quickly noticed that people were yelling at one another because they were not really listening. They were too busy thinking about what they were going to say next. I call this the ping pong effect: listening with the intent to respond rather than the intent to understand.”
“When I stopped doing this, my whole experience at Camp started to change.”
When Leith was asked what advice he has for young people in Chicago he said, “Blaming others won’t get you anywhere. When you see something you don’t like, it is easy to focus on the problem, but actually doing something about it is what leads to change.”
Two adults contributed their own words to the presentations: SSA alum Barbara “Bobbie” Gottschalk, co-founder of Seeds of Peace, and Jane Risen, a professor at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business who is currently conducting research on the impact Seeds of Peace programming has on participants. Bobbie Gottschalk noted that “Seeds of Peace was built off the notion that people can better strive for change when they are first able to act as if life is the way it could be.” She emphasized the need for more peace-building programs within school curricula.
Ben Durchslag, a Seeds of Peace Camp counselor studying at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, raised money through the School’s Diversity Committee student club to bring the three Seeds to Chicago.
Photo by Lloyd DeGrane (University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration).